Governed like a village, Uganda cannot beat corruption

Sunday December 16 2018

Alan Tacca

Alan Tacca  

By Alan Tacca

President Museveni once exploded that he was not here to serve anybody except himself (as a freedom fighter), and his family (well, I suppose as his family). However, he sometimes seems to acknowledge that his privileged position carries some responsibility such as collecting taxes and spending that money well in public interest. Mark the word ‘well’, because almost everything that should have long ago become Museveni’s headache rotates around the failure (or refusal) to spend public money ‘well’.

In government PR, various functionaries always make a glorious display of brick or tarmac constructions or social services the government has delivered, leading many ordinary people to think that government action (at all) was such a praiseworthy favour and questions about cost are a sign of ingratitude.
So, if a road was constructed for $80 million instead of $50, pursuing the politicians and technocrats who pocketed the $30 million often makes you an ‘enemy of development’.

But Mr Museveni cannot do all the things he talks about when the country is governed like a village. Village-rule symptoms are everywhere.
In an African village, the chief usually avoids upsetting too many people, including wrongdoers, since he regularly rubs shoulders with them, and he has known them or their parents personally since childhood. Compromise and friendly smiles are less avoidable in a village than the larger state.
The absence of professionally organised records, and the use of verbal commitments and informal accountability ‘stories’ are more forgivable at the village office but not in the country’s larger national departments, where firm enforcement of rules and regulations should be mandatory.

Those following the Parliament’s inquiry into the way Bank of Uganda closed and sold several commercial banks have been left with open mouths. At this venerable institution, senior officials made grave decisions, moved around serious documents until they disappeared, or avoided having serious documents in the first place, as if the central bank was a fundraiser for village funerals and weddings.
With the same casualness, ghost schools are invented. With the same casualness, an Abdul Kitatta and his gang arise and somehow get paid.
With the same casualness, new districts are created, Parliament expands and RDCs multiply.

In that Uganda, the President appoints more presidential advisors without tangible work but getting serious pay, even as thousands of Ugandans who do serious work are paid in cynical jokes.
With the same casualness, the President’s relatives and old cronies who stole public money 30 years ago are still moved from one big desk to another.

When spending public funds badly is so conspicuous, and the chief’s conscience is not engineered for retirement, you need only a crow’s brain to know that the system must be full of paths to impunity.
President Museveni believes (no, he claims) that solving the problem means multiplying the outfits that would catch his government thieves. A ruse. A distraction. What Uganda in fact urgently needs is a set of government institutions and officials that are not addicted to stealing as the accepted norm.

In their UPM guise before the 1980 general election, Mr Museveni’s comrades made ‘clean leadership’ their catchphrase.
During the 1981-86 Bush war, the money and guns these comrades got were either clandestine donations or booty captured/stolen from various public institutions, so accountability could not be more systematic than village grade.
Unfortunately, those comrades long ago threw away the opportunity to make the transition from village grade to a modern state, where anti-corruption warriors have no respect for comradeship. Instead, like contagion, corruption just spreads to the new recruits.